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Spamwise Gamgee
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The main downside to increasing the number of players in a game of Catan is increasing the space between any given player's turns. Not only can this be boring (for some people), it can also be dangerous: leaving you exposed to the dreaded 7 roll.

When bumping from the base 4 to expanded 6, the concept of "special build" is introduced and this is a very welcome addition. However, with you only being able to spend (and not trade) the resources on hand during "special builds", you can still find yourself having carefully spent resources to get below the 7 card limit (or 9 or 11 or 13 with city walls) by the end of your turn only to wind up in peril before your next roll.

This becomes even more pronounced if you push beyond 6 to 8 or even 10 players. (Yes, I know many people would say, "Catan with 10 players is great --- just divide into 2 five-player games and you're all set." But, this means you don't spend time with half of the friends with whom you've come to play. One giant game may be a bit cumbersome, but you're all in it together.)

Here is our proposal for a minor adjustment to the "special build" phase. All other rules are played as usual (or, if you're playing other variants or house rules, they still are in play). When you are in the "special build" phase, you may use any of the cards in your hand (resources and/or commodities) as well make trades ONLY WITH THE BANK, PORTS, OR THE MERCHANT. Got 4 sheep and a brick? You can build a road with that. Got 2 grain and 1 ore while the merchant on your grain hex? Go ahead and upgrade that knight. Want to trade 1 wood for 1 sheep with the person to your left? Sorry, it's not your turn.

Furthermore, an optional variant to the variant: you can enable the use of progress cards -- THAT ONLY INVOLVE THE BANK. Build 2 roads or 1 city wall or upgrade 2 of your knights for free? Sure. Irrigation or mining? No problem. Build a city improvement or city at a discount? You bet. Rifle through an opponent's resource cards and keep 2? Not a chance! Name a resource or commodity and everyone gives you some? I think not!
Looking at the progress cards by color:
Science Cards (Green): all are usable, except Alchemist -- the dice aren't active during "special build", so it would be of no benefit.
Trade Cards (Yellow): only 1 would be allowed -- Merchant Fleet (enabling 2:1 trades for this turn).
Politics Cards (Blue): only 2* allowed -- Warlord (activate all of your knights for free) and Diplomat* but only if you're using the "relocate your own road" option. You cannot remove an opponent's road.

That's it. Now, the rounds between your turns can be more productive. You won't have as great a risk of "over-production followed by rolling a 7 on your turn". You'll be less likely to have to discard progress cards beyond the hand limit of 4. The game should be headed more quickly to its conclusion. (Throwing away half your hand or any 5th progress card just slows the game down. Spending more time “having fun” is one thing. Spending more time “waiting for more good rolls to counteract the cards you lost due to chance” is another.)
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Spamwise Gamgee
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Playtest report -- 11+ plays using the base variant (no progress cards can be played during the special build). It's working quite well.

We haven't ever tried with progress cards enabled (and, perhaps, never will).
 
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